Celebrating Ohio Native Plants

By Michael Leach

Today we are helping launch April as Ohio Native Plant Month, with a post about how this became Ohio law.  In a few days, we’ll share an interview with Hope Taft, former Ohio first lady, who not only helped make this happen, but has long been a champion of Ohio native plants and natural areas.

It takes more than trowels and watering cans to make a gardening statement. For April to become Ohio Native Plant Month, ideas, conversations, meetings, legislative hearings, political action, and the signature of Gov. Mike DeWine were part of the mix.

The purpose is to increase public awareness of Ohio’s native plants, and the many benefits they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and health of Ohio’s environment.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine with Hope Taft (far left) and Ohio Master Gardeners

One of the behind-the-scenes champions is Hope Taft, wife of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and “mother” of the Heritage Garden at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. It’s the only one in the country featuring a landscape showcasing the state’s native plants and vignettes of its principal ecosystems.

The idea for native plant month sprouted around three years ago when she learned Texas planned a native plant week. She said,  “This struck me as a great way to broaden the impact of the Heritage Garden and increase the use of native plants in residential settings.”

However, it stayed in her memory bank because “…. my background told me it would be a lot of work to get the legislature to go along and even more to have a group of like-minded organizations to do it without supporting legislation.”

Eventually she met Kathryn Cochran Wiggam, wife of state Rep. Scott Wiggam of the Ohio House of Reresentatives, and daughter of Ken Cochran, retired director of Secrest Arboretum. She is a member of the Garden Club of Akron, part of the Garden Club of America. Another memory deposited.

Eventually, several memories and meetings resulted in action. Nancy Linz, the Zone X horticulture chair of the Garden Club of America, Nathan Johnson, director of Public Lands for the Ohio Environmental Council, and Hope worked out a plan to get the facts and information needed to present it to the legislature. She said, “The stars were aligning!”

We surveyed every garden club, associated group and green industry member we could think offor the best month, she said. April was chosen because a wide variety of groups across Ohio could participate and nurseries could be stocked with native plants “when the public is most interested in their own yards.”

Rep. Scott Wiggam and Sen. Bob Hackett guided the plan through the legislature. Committee hearings were required. After making many trips to Columbus to testify in the House and Senate committees, getting school children, green industry representatives, and garden club association representatives to testify, and encourage many others to write letters, the bill was signed into law July 18, 2019,” she said.

The group isn’t finished. The trio is working to form a nonprofit organization, develop a website,www.ohionativeplantmonth.org, and encourage use of information there. “Nancy is the driving force behind Ohio Native Plant Month and hopes it will get national traction,” she said.

Recently the group received notice the Montgomery County Commissioners, which includes Dayton, issued a proclamation honoring Ohio Native Pant Month. This is important, Hope said. It puts the local government on records supporter of using native plants. 

Another way to promote Ohio plants, she said, is for local beautification groups to add “use of natives” as a criteria in selecting outstanding gardens. 

While the COVID-19 crisis forced cancellation of native plant events in April, the Ohio Native Plant Month website will list new events, provide updates, give information on invasive plants, and show tallies of Ohio tree plantings to reach the United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign, www.trilliontreecampagin.org, to plant a trillion trees by 2050.

They also will provide information on adding Ohio native plant pollinator gardens to home landscapes and using Ohio natives in existing landscape plantings.

In the Garden: Teresa’s Haven

IMG_6893By Debra Knapke

In between light rain showers Michael and I visited Teresa’s garden. Nestled in a conservation area along the scenic Little Darby Creek, Teresa created a haven for wildlife and for herself and her family. Her design is a continuum: formal elements by the house; semi-formal beds further out, culminating in prairie areas by the road. Her gardens reflect not only the natural areas that were along the Little Darby before humans settled here, but also of the food and cutting gardens that came after.

in garden formal 7-9-15

The Midwest is experiencing a record-setting amount of rain for June and July, so Teresa’s gardens are lush. The long prairie areas that line the road are full of bloom as we move into high summer color.

in garden prairie long view 7-9-15We are greeted at the front door by one of Teresa’s many colorful containers. Her gardens are lovely contrasts of textural foliage punctuated by well-placed blooming plants and artful placements of garden accents.

In the garden begonia container 7-9-15 in garden container vignette 7-9-15

The vegetable-cutting garden is perfectly placed within easy access to Teresa’s workroom. The mass of crocosmia that you see below provided the flowers for a simple arrangement in the kitchen. The garden itself is an interesting interpretation a four-square design. Instead of opting for the traditional, Teresa created a more modern zig-zag design.

We can’t always control where our plants will roam. A volunteer pumpkin has escaped and entwined with butterflyweed. On the other side of the garden, Teresa purposely inter-planted potatoes with asparagus, purple coneflower and kiwi. The sacred Datura (right image; lower left) self-seeds as it will.

in garden escaping pumpkin 7-9-15 in garden intermingling 7-9-15

Onto the prairie – A personal favorite is false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) which has spread along one portion of the prairie area. A close-up of another section reveals the intermingling of other prairie species. The patterns ebb and flow over the years depending on environmental conditions. Because of the rain, there were fewer pollinators present, but I have visited on a sunny day and the prairie was buzzing with a myriad of insects. The goldfinches are already harvesting the purple coneflowers.

in garden prairie vignette 7-9-15 in garden prairie heliopsis 7-9-15

Next stop: visiting Teresa’s woods. Her son Mark installed a zip line and built a small treehouse and has made this part of the yard his own. We decided not to venture into this natural area because the mosquitoes were – quite literally – out for our blood! It was easier to avoid them by staying out in the open, breezy areas.

in garden Marks woods 7-9-15

Just off the woods is the backyard terrace area where texture rules. In the lower area, we visited “the girls”. They often roam with Teresa as she works in the garden. I’m thinking how this might be a good addition to my own garden. Where else do you find an insecticide (insects are one of their favorite foods), a fertilizer, a tractor and a food provider wrapped up in one attractive package?

 

in garden back walkway 7-9-15

in garden the girls 7-9-15

Coming out of the backyard into a semi-formal woodland garden, the rain started again. Time to say goodbye, accept some beautiful eggs, go home and bake.

in garden T and M 7-9-15 resize

Wishing you beautiful moments in a garden…

 

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